Tuesday, 10 September 2013

'In those days'

I write fiction, short stories usually. These have been contemporary, but of late I’ve been drawn to write some set in the decades of the twentieth century. It’s partly because I’ve been thinking of all those anniversaries of events that shaped the century, and partly because I get story inspirations from programmes like Long Lost Families and Who Do You Think You Are. Mostly, though, I think it’s a wish to explore the times my parents lived through; and the years I lived in myself, beyond the edge of memory.
I went with work colleagues once on a Mystery Bus Tour around the streets of Edinburgh and then out to the Hawes Inn at South Queensferry for chicken-in-the-basket. The only ‘mystery’ as far as I could see was how had the bus driver got the job as our guide, because he had no grasp of history whatsoever. Everything, from Mary, Queen of Scots to the Second World War, was lumped together as ‘in those days’ and the expression has become a jokey byword in my house for anything historical.
But such flannel will not do in fiction, not if you hope to have it published. Social etiquettes and morals, clothes, food, films, music, domestic arrangements, transport – all the details of ‘those days’ have to be checked out. Thank goodness then for Google, for Facebook friends and for the social history books on my shelves. And since my husband works from home I use him as an information point as well.
To give a flavour of what I’ve been writing recently, here are some questions I’ve thrown at the poor man when he’s come through to the kitchen for lunch.
What kind of car would a well-to-do young man drive in the late 1960s?
Do you know anything about naval ranks? Naval uniforms?
Have you ever heard of deck golf?
What sort of hat would a spivvy type wear in 1932?
How much do you think dolly mixtures were in 1955?
Were Cadbury wrappers always purple?
Did you ever pick up pennies thrown by a bride’s father?
How would you put out a chimney fire?
He hardly ever has the answer but it makes for interesting discussions over a cheese sandwich.


  1. Kate, I love the blog.

    Funnily enough I've just asked a tricky question too. When could you first text on a mobile? It isn't just social history that's tricky!

  2. great blog, kate!
    as for the questions - please let us know the answers when you find out...... and don't drive the poor man insane!

  3. Love that typewriter, Kate. Very classy!
    I wrote into our diary the first time I saw one of the postie's new delivery carts earlier in the year. This is because the questions you pose, of things in our memory but now a fact of our lives, are the most difficult to pin down. Looking forward to more of your posts, Anne Stenhouse

  4. Great blog. I think the 'past times' hit me when my daufhter came home from school around 10 years ago, and said they were 'doing the 60's in history. MY era. And to add insult to injury had been told to ask their granny if she had any memorabilia! (she took my genuine 1960's Mary Quant tights in and they put them in a locked glass case!)

  5. Kate, what early birds there are about! My excuse for just getting round to my machine is that I've just been visiting the amazing Tapestry for Scotland at the Parliament. Really neat blog, love the reworked qwerty! - and look forward to reading more, and often. Rosemary

  6. Great to see your blog, Kate - I also love the typewriter with the name on it. I can tell you that Cadbury wrappers were not always purple!

  7. Great blog, Kate. I'm also asking questions about 'in those days' at the moment but if I had a partner who could answer them from personal recollections, she'd be at least 150 years old. It is funny though that our yesterdays seem as remote as the Stone Age. On the other hand, the past is just one big lump of stuff in memory so it might as well all be contemporaneous. (By the way, I love the phrase 'beyond the edge of memory'. Good title for something.)

  8. Great blog Kate and some really thought provoking questions. It would be great to know the answers!

  9. Really enjoyed this, Kate - and I love the typewriter. I remember scrambles at weddings but I thought it was the groom who threw the coins.
    Looking forward to your next post.

  10. Oh those questions we need answers to - so we trawl Wikipedia, and then try get that validated on another site - we can drown in research sometimes, but isn't it fun!!

  11. I like the typewriter too. I learned to type on one of those, but they seem prehistoric now in this age of computers. Oh, and when you find out the answers to the questions be sure to list them on your blog.